Yingzheng Fashion is a women's business attire brand launched in Beijing in 2000 with franchise stores at Zhongyou Department Store (2001), Yansha-Youyi Shopping City, and Modern Plaza. The brand grows rapidly and enjoys high reputation among high-end clients, leading shopping malls, and business agents. Ms. Ma Ying, the founder and chairman of the Company and a graduate of EMBA Class 2003 at BiMBA, said the brand vision was to be Chinese Armani.
I see you put the books by economists and successful women in your stores. This is unusual and why?
We have these books in our stores and at our exhibition booths as well. At China International Clothing and Accessories Fair, for example, we prepared a book by Ms. Zheng Mei, a Hong Kong entrepreneur, on lifestyle, books by economists Lang Xianping, Zhou Qiren, Lin Yifu, and Yang Zhuang, as well as books on health care and golf. To tell the truth, these books serve as touchstone for us to understand our clients and their quality and interests. We therefore identify a group of people keen on playing golf and add our logo made of Swarovski rhinestones on the sleeves of golf shirts. I can tell you an interesting story. We used to put the book by Jobs at our booth but attracted few people. It seems to me that the agents pay more attention to our products.
As a high-end clothing brand for successful women, Yingzheng has secured its market and cultural space after ten-year efforts. In order to continuously grow, what task do you think is the most urgent at present?
We need a good story about the brand. Many brands have their stories and some are carefully edited to create the results they want. Different people, different businesses, different life stories; they create unique stories appealing to the audience. I wasn’t a big fan of these stories, for I know many of them are not real and I just don’t like it. But since Yingzheng has accumulated its influence and has its own place in the market, I think it’s time for us to edit our own story. This is what an ambitious brand should do.
How to edit the story? First of all, we shall explain the origin of Yingzheng. But more importantly, we should answer the question, what is Chinese identity, which puzzled me when I started the business. We are the first generation replacing Made in China with Created in China and Chinese Identity used to puzzle us for years. After a decade of efforts, I can see clearly now the future of Chinese designs.
So you used to struggle between domestic and international markets?
From the very beginning, I made up my mind to make Yingzheng the Armani in China but met many obstacles during realizing it. Yingzheng is a domestic brand and this was the biggest obstacle for us to enter high-end shopping malls several years ago. Most Chinese shopping centers love international brands and I used to doubt if I did the right thing to stick to Made-in-China high-end brand. Few understood the difficulties we faced and we were no match for second- and even third-line foreign brands.
Some friends said I should register the brand in a foreign country, opened a franchise store there, and then introduced the brand in China. I knew this was a good way to fight our way into big shopping malls and took a serious consideration at that time. But then, I asked myself, what’s the point? Is this still the brand I want in the first place? So the most difficult part is to choose from an easy success and a dream not easily coming true. In a year or so, I couldn’t make up of my mind. But eventually, I chose to stick to my dream. Looking back at the choice now, I’m glad I made it, for I have got a growing brand and satisfactory returns. But more importantly, I am confident and proud.
After graduating from Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology in early 1990s, you went to work at Yansha doing market research and promoting business. How does the work experience affect your career?
First of all, I’m a fashion designer; this is the corner stone of my career. This is the start of all my explorations and answers to the questions about Chinese identity. After graduating from Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, instead of finding a job of fashion design, I went to work at Yansha-Youyi Shopping City and was the first college graduate recruited by the leading shopping mall opening for business not long ago in the capital city. It is the first joint venture department store in China and mainly serves high-end consumers. As a matter of fact, before graduating, the dean came to me with an offer, asking me to stay at the Institute and to be a teacher. At that time, teaching was not a challenging job and the salary was relatively low. I was ambitious and wanted to do a job more challenging so I said no to the offer.
Most state-owned enterprises were manufacturers at that time and there were few fashion brands; so I chose Yansha, starting from counter clerk and then learning to planning promotions by organizing performance at Kempinski, lecturing on fur products on TV and on color matching to VIP customers. When Women’s Clothing Department recorded daily sails of one million, I wrote a report at night and broadcast the news next day at the shopping city. I did my job well at that time and this is a valuable personal experience for me to initiate my own brand later.
Since day one working at Yansha, I knew this was my first step. I am a designer and I know what I want. So I let go many other things, including business competition. I declined the promotion to be an executive, for I wanted to stick to fashion business. One year later, I was assistant manager at Business Promotion Office and spent next seven years finding fashion brands with market potentials. Most of the leading brands you can find at high-end department stores now opened their first franchise at Yansha and then steadily grew, including Ports, one of the most successful brands of the high-end fashion and accessories. When I introduced it to Yansha, the brand has 35 years of history in Canada, and I was glad to see it grow in China since then. Getting to know these brands, I kept asking myself what strategies and measures they have taken to sustain their growth. I observed a lot and thought a lot at that time. Then, I decided to start my own brand.
What’s your basic strategy at beginning and how did you develop marketing channels?
My plan was to register a brand and to develop market. With products and with marketing channels to change products to commodities, we can create value and make profit. The top choice of marketing our products was to open a franchise store at a shopping mall. But it was not easy, for people knew little about us. So I brought along with me the products and visited the business promotion chiefs. I thought they were moved by our passion and belief. Anyway, we finally got a space of our own. This is where Yingzheng has got started. We made to the top in three days after opening and accomplished one-month task in one week. This is our first record, thanks to the quality of our products.
One day, the manager of procurement at Yansha visited our counter and asked me about the future strategy of Yingzheng. I could see that he was interested in our brand. And my answer was very simple; we wanted to be Armani in China. What’s about Armani? It’s your top choice when you have no idea what to put on. Yingzheng should make business women confident about themselves in any occasions. The manager had been engaged in business clothing for years; so instead of telling him details about materials and quality, i talked more about our style and our brand culture.
How do you attract target customers?
Many brands focus on developing marketing channels. Some have taken considerable market share but suffer poor performance at high-end shipping malls. In order to attract high-end customers, they change marketing channels by opening franchise stores. But few of them get satisfactory result. On the contrary, from the very beginning, I decide that our brand serves independent, elegant, brave, confident, and well-educated women with good taste. Thanks to the prudent but accurate choice, we are successful in developing high-end market and in promoting our brand.
So you target at high-end market from the very beginning and then start to promote the brand after getting a group of loyal customers?
When we opened the first franchise store at Yansha in 2007, we closed many stores in other places and launched new high-end product line. It was a difficult time for us but we gained brand value. At that time, my team, designers and sales managers, they had been with me all the time and I was greatly moved. We went through many difficulties with the belief in our strength and in the value of our brand.
Facts prove that we were right. Today, anyone coming to us for buying or cooperating believes that this is a reliable high-end brand with excellent products and culture. Most of our customers are top executives, officials, and professionals such as teachers, lawyers, and financial analysts. During China International Clothing and Accessories Fair held this year, the president and business promotion managers at Yansha and its branches visited our booth. Other visitors include the executives of the leading shopping malls in China, such as Golden Eagle in Nanjing, Maoye in Shenzhen, and Zhuozhan in Changchun, as well as top agents, fabric suppliers and design companies based in Italy and France. Our focus this year is to promote the brand.
In terms of fashion design, what are the highlights of Yingzheng products?
The most distinct feature of our brand is its high standards. What attracts working women aging between 35 and 50 the most is quality. Top quality, elegant style, and comfortable and niche fabric, these are important factors creating a professional image. Women after 30 start to like comfortable clothing, in which they can move around easily. Another thing that a fashion design should keep in mind is that the fabric and the design should be able to stand the test of repeated washing. All these pose strict requirements on style, fabric, cutting, and visual effect. And everything should be perfect.
Starting from raw materials, each Yingzheng suit shall go through more than 200 procedures, including 20 on sleeves. The designers pay special attention on every detail so that even such small accessories as buttons will be perfect fit among numerous choices. It’s time-consuming and requires a large amount of work, but we make it and Yingzheng products meet the highest quality standards that most foreign brands follow.
What’s the most common word people use to describe Yingzheng products?
It’s unique. All the shopping mall managers, agents, suppliers, and customers say Yingzheng is different and unique. This word is what I hear from them the most.
How can you be so unique and reach such high quality standards?
This is because we have experience and professionals in designing and marketing. I believe it’s hard to survive as a copy cat in fashion design. We spent years in studying at least ten thousand different women bodies and creating our unique designs suiting both Asian and European women. Pure Asian designs are more like flat type; but it’s hard for Chinese to accept European design featuring big difference between waist and bust. Our unique designs suit most body sizes and make big women appear more elegant. We stick to certain styles in choosing fabric. It’s interesting to notice that, after so many considerations and selections, the fabric we finally decide on is always elegant, comfortable, and simple. This is what I call the inherent brand feature, which shows clearly the unique style and the awareness of identity.
You can also find it in our sales. I’m an honest and direct person, so are my employees. We seldom teach them marketing skills but asking them to provide sincere, accurate, and efficient services instead. Their role is to be image consultant for customers. Most of Yingzheng customers are professionals with life wisdom and rich experience. They are successful in their careers, enjoying social respect and happy family. So you don’t have to deal with them with skills or empty words. They are mature and have knowledge about brands. What we should do is to offer dressing guidance and to be professional consultant to give her a perfect image in any occasions. If she is to attend an important meeting, our task is to make her feel confident and attractive. If a suit doesn’t fit her, the salesperson should ask her to try another one instead of letting her pay for it. The relationship between Yingzheng and customers should be mutually respectful and loyal.
The reputation, the culture, and the trust, you can’t get all these in a short period of time without efforts. That’s why the copy cats won’t succeed. Just as I told you a while ago about why we put business books at our stores, this is part of our corporate culture and you can’t just copy it.
What about your pricing policy?
The prices of our products are much lower in comparison with first-line foreign brands. In fact, some of the fabrics we use are more expensive, so the price difference lies in different brand value. I don’t believe in high pricing policy just to appeal to rich customers. I think price should match with brand value. Since we’re not yet first-line brand, we should better give it a reasonable price.
Do you think you’re successful? What’s your opinion about innovation?
We’re far from being successful and we are at a new start right now. The question we ask ourselves the most is how to make our brand sustain. As for innovation, I think this is the secret of sustainability in fashion design and for Yingzheng to survive and thrive in this changing market. We talked to customers, agents, and suppliers, asking them to list our competitive edges and the things we should improve. According to the survey, our weakest link at present is our window display. VIP service is another weak point. We’re talking to Italian and French companies on improving window display design. As for our strengths, they named our products and our services. Good product is the corner stone and the source of strength. I have always prioritized products and it finally pays off.
What’s your expectation on national fashion brands?
We should be more graceful, more confident, and more responsible. Chinese brands should catch up with international market leaders in terms of product quality, technology, and development strategy. Our weak points include culture, innovation, and time. If you look at the history of prestigious brands, Louis Vuitton is 157 years old, Chanel is 98, and George Armani is 36. Chinese brands are much younger, so please be patient and give us more supports so that we can grow and get mature.